Businesses hit back at Ingham
Business leaders have taken exception to being painted as self-interested and lacking a social conscience by former Belco CEO Vince Ingham at a political rally.
Senator Ingham, the Progressive Labour Party’s candidate for Pembroke West, took the business community to task for “playing games with our people”, and told Wednesday night’s audience: “The constituent in Bermuda who in my view is giving the least of all is the business community.”
Bermuda Chamber of Commerce President Ronnie Viera: “As a former CEO of one of the largest local companies on the Island, surely Sen Ingham is well aware that businesses in Bermuda are suffering.”
The Constituency 19 candidate had hinted to the audience at Victor Scott Primary that businesses had “a pile of money” kept aside.
Mr Viera said many Chamber members were trying to “remain afloat” and said business owners shouldn’t be blamed for redundancies.
“No business owner wishes to close or downsize,” he said.
“Unfortunately, given the current economic reality, these are sometimes the decisions that have to be made. The outflow of international businesses from our shores during the past year has resulted in fewer people in Bermuda to support our economy, and we see the results in all market sectors. There are clear indications that all is not well, and businesses can no longer afford to sustain their operations as they have in the past.”
Charitable and scholarship contributions had continued from international and local business, the Chamber President added.
According to an economic impact report from the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers (ABIR), its members contributed $951 million to the Island’s economy during 2011.
Asked if business in general had taken an unsympathetic stance to the plight of ordinary Bermudians hit by the recession, Centre on Philanthropy Executive Director Pamela Barit Nolan said the remarks were too broad to comment on.
“The Centre does not have contact with every company in Bermuda and so is not able to comment on this generally,” she said.
“We have relationships with more than 50 companies that are a blend of local and international companies. In 2011, 25 of these companies reported donating over $14 million to the community.
“During the same period ABIR companies donated $12 million — some of these companies giving would also be counted in the former data.”
She added that a 2007 survey had found 78 percent of all companies made a charitable gift in the previous 12 months.
“We are finding that companies are looking for ways to broaden their giving on the island but supplementing financial donations with donations of time and are interested in formalising employee volunteering programmes,” she said.
The Bermuda Employers’ Council (BEC) was “disappointed to learn that the business community was attacked” at the rally, BEC President Keith Jensen said.
“To set the record straight, firms — local or International, large or small — are all operating to provide employment, meet business objectives, make a profit and to support the community in which they operate to the extent they can,” Mr Jensen told
The Royal Gazette.
“It should be well known the retail industry has been struggling for almost four years and yet despite the extraordinary cash flow problems, businesses see the need to keep as many people employed as possible. Construction employers have not had enough work for two years to sustain the industry as investment in buildings and residences dried up and they have tried to keep staff employed on reduced hours anticipating that things will improve.”
Cuts have began to affect core staff, Mr Jensen said, adding that “the reality is setting in” that next year won’t show much improvement for the Island’s key industries.
He said that every manager he had met “anguishes over layoffs”.
“Despite all of the economic problems, local businesses and staff give to charities,” he said.
“In our view, it is unwise to attack businesses in the Island, but, instead the efforts should be recognised and celebrated. Even during an election it is important to build bridges with the business community rather than destroy them. As Bermuda’s recession has continued over the years, it takes its toll on employment as revenue runs lower and lower.”